IET Meetup: Digital Twins, the Next Phase of the AI Revolution


I was lucky to get a ticket to this well-attended EngTalk at the Institute of Engineering and Technology.

The idea of an Intelligent Digital Avatar conjures up many images from a complete virtual world that one can safely define, develop and play in to rogue robots running amok and destroying mankind. The reality is much less dramatic but no less far reaching and exciting.

This year’s Turing Talk will be delivered by Mark Girolami; an academic statistician and the Sir Kirby Laing Professorship of Civil Engineering at the University of Cambridge.

Mark will discuss Digital Twins and chart their history to present day technological capability, looking at some of the advances being made and the opportunities along with the open challenges faced to realise the potential of Digital Twins.

The historical part of this talk was very interesting, with examples from 100BC (the Antikythera, the Greek instrument used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses), Kelvin’s mechanical device for predicting tides (used up to 1940, including D-day landings) to weather balloons to model and predict atmospheric pressure.

Mark’s premise was that, whilst 2015 was about BigData, 2020 is about Digital twins – layering mathematical models over complex data streams in order to extract useful information. He stressed the importance of the provenance of information, error checking and acknowledging bias in such models. He was also keen to point out that models should not be used to blindly infer causation (an observed effect might be caused by some outside factor that was not understood or included in the model).

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Rambling: Wansfell and Troutbeck, Lake District

This is a circular walk from Ambleside to the village of Troutbeck via Wansfell. It’s the shortest of the ‘red’ walks in the excellent Pathfinder Guide, so made a good choice for a wet and windy day – fortunately, after an early tea at the Old Post Office tea rooms in Troutbeck, the weather was much improved. Highlights include a succession of waterfalls on leaving Ambleside and excellent views of Windermere on the return.

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Rambing: Walla Crag, Lake District

My family and I went for this lovely walk earlier this year. As well as some amazing views, we stopped at Annie’s Pantry at the half-way point for an excellent lunch sitting by the river.

Starting from National Trust car parks at Great Wood just outside Keswick, this walk climbs steadily through the wood and offers views over Derwent Water. It’s quite a steep walk down the river valley to Annie’s Pantry, but that’s the only refreshment stop on this walk and was well worth the effort. The highlight of the walk is the descent from Walla Crag to Cat Gill – the book has a nice photo of this, as well as lots of pictures of dogs!

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Book Review: Dark Sacred Night, Michael Connelly

Harry Bosch continues to investigate the murder of his friend Elizabeth’s daughter, Daisy Clayton. Whilst he’s a volunteer at the San Fernando Police Department, he bends the rules by turning up at the LAPD to go through some old files. There, he meets Renee Ballard for the first time – she subsequently works out which cold case he’s pursuing, and they team up.

Meanwhile, for the ‘day job’, Bosch investigates a gang-land killing. A witness reveals some details of the shooting many years ago and Bosch heads up a forensic examination at a garage which might still harbour clues. This doesn’t go un-noticed by the gang and Bosch finds himself in considerable danger.

With Ballard and Bosch teaming up, the author has plenty of scope to highlight the similarities and differences between them. Both like to work alone and push on with a case even to the point of danger – Ballard was kidnapped in The Late Show, Bosch abducted in this thriller. Yet Bosch needs someone to keep him honest – he strays dangerously close to being a vigilante in this story and Ballard admonishes him for that.
Four stars

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Book Review: The Late Show, Michael Connelly

This detective thriller by Michael Connelly introduces Renee Ballard as his latest character. Ballard has been relegated to the night shift at the LAPD, following friction with her former boss. Her passions are solving crime and surfing/paddle-boarding on the sea – she has an unconventional lifestyle, hanging out at the beach with her dog during the day (often sleeping in a tent) then working at night.

This book follows quite a complex plot across several cases. The primary case is the assault of Ramona Ramone, a sex worker brutally attacked and left with unusual bruising, as if from lettered knuckledusters. Ballard is then sent to the scene of a mass shooting at Dancers Club – this opens a new plot line and Ballard believes that a dirty cop shot the victims to cover his involvement in organised crime. Ballard follows clues to a likely perpetrator of the assault on Ramone at an “upside-down” house – whilst investigating, we find out that Ballard is prepared to break a few rules here and there, much like Connelly’s established detective, Harry Bosch. Bosch is mentioned in this book, but does not appear.

The book covers several different cases and at times it was difficult to keep track. Worth reading, though, as the first in what’s likely to be a number of books featuring Renee Ballard.
Four stars

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Modern C++ in Embedded Systems

I was thinking about C++ for embedded environments recently and wondered how much of today’s Modern C++ was recommended for use. I found an excellent article by Dominic Herity on the subject:

  1. Modern C++ in Embedded Systems – part 1
  2. Modern C++ in Embedded Systems – part 2

Even better, Dominic linked to some presentation materials Scott has published electronically on the subject. I’ve long been a fan of Scott’s writing and wasn’t aware of this electronic book, so I’m reading that next.

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Book Review: Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke

This book explores what might happen if an alien civilisation were to come to Earth, their technological knowledge being so far in advance of humankind that there’s no point in military resistance. In fact, the alien political and social engineering is so masterful that there’s no long-lived resistance of any kind. Fortunately, they use their abilities for good, eradicating wars and bring prosperity to all. It seems to be a utopia – everyone is free to explore whatever they want. However, exploration into space is prohibited until one human manages to stow away on a ship back to the mother planet. He gains a fresh perspective, both on humanity’s role in the galaxy and also the fate of the planet when he returns to Earth.

The frustration of this book is that the Overloads turn out to be less powerful that it first appears, they are not the premier, master-race in the galaxy, but themselves report to an Overmind. Their role is indeed benevolent, but both their own future and that of mankind are limited. As per the title of the book, the end of childhood is in sight whilst the Overload guardians watch over the humans, looking out for signs of the beginning of the end.
Four stars

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